Who is in your room?
Dr Ivan Misner, founder of BNI & referred to as the Modern Father of Networking
Making conversations about networking count!
Dr Ivan Misner is the Modern Father of Networking. With 36 years of continuous growth through the BNI network he founded in 1986, the organisation now has over 275000 members across 10000 chapters in 72 countries. Compelling author and contributor of 26 books including his latest titles ‘Who’s in Your Room?’ and ‘Infinite Giving’.
In this episode, Ivan and Wendy explore how conversation is the foundation of all growth and learning. How times have changed, looking back and also predicting our future generations’ experiences, yet communication will still be the underpin even if how that looks has changed.
Tune in to hear this pivotal moment and how listening to your instincts can send you on a new trajectory of success. We just wish we had chance to ask about his amateur magician skills!
00:02:03: BNI’s global reach
00:03:51: The effect of COVID on BNI
00:05:40: The value of your network
00:07:03: Pandemic success stories
00:10:11: Ivan’s pivotal moment
00:12:21: Networking for the younger generation
00:15:42: A glimpse of Ivan’s bibliography
00:17:36: “Who’s in Your Room?”
00:20:01: Final thoughts
Making Conversations Count – Epsiode 14
January 21st 2021
Wendy Harris & Dr Ivan Misner
Wendy Harris: You are listening to the official Making Conversations Count podcast with me, your host, Wendy Harris. I am so excited today to be able to introduce to you, author of “Who’s in Your Room?”, father of the modern networking, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI, who has just celebrated a mammoth 36 years of growth and generated a record amount of revenue for its members last year; it is, of course, Dr Ivan Misner. Ivan, how are you and where are you today?
Ivan Misner: Thank you, Wendy, I’m doing great; and, you obviously listen to the BNI podcast because Priscilla asks me that most of the time, because I travel all over the world now. Of course, in this zoom era, I’m doing zoom travel, which is really awesome because not long ago, I was in India in the morning and then I was in the UK in the afternoon; and, I think I was in Dubai later that afternoon. You couldn’t do that in real life.
Wendy Harris: Certainly! Please pass on our best to Priscilla in the UK; we love her. We just always hang on that first opening sentence to you and yeah, of course, it’s like we’re time travellers now, isn’t it; you really can travel the world?
Ivan Misner: So, do you know why we came up with that phrase? We came up with it because years ago, I got this email from somebody that said, “You’re probably on the beach in LA drinking Mai Tais; you’re not really doing anything”, and I’m like, oh my goodness, this guy does not see my calendar! And so, we started talking about where I was and it completely eliminated this, “Oh, you’re in your ivory tower” concept, where I was visiting regions.
I have 2.3 million miles on one airline alone, so I have travelled all over the world for BNI and it’s been amazing and I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s work.
Wendy Harris: Well, I think when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work, and that’s the best kind of work to do?
Ivan Misner: Yes, absolutely.
Wendy Harris: How many members have you got in the network now, Ivan?
Ivan Misner: We have over 275,000 members worldwide.
Wendy Harris: Wow! And, I think I saw a little clip that you’d reached a target of chapters as well?
Ivan Misner: I’ll tell you the story. I had a friend and I went to him and I said, this was the middle of 1986 so BNI had been around for a year and a half, and I said, “You know, I think BNI someday might be able to have 10,000 chapters?” and he looked at me and he said, “And, how many chapters do you have now?” I said, “30”. He laughed at me, “10,000? It’s good to have goals, Ivan; very good to have goals”. “No, really, seriously, I think it’s possible”.
Now, I’ll be honest with you, Wendy, I did the calculations. I thought it would take 75 years to get to 10,000. I didn’t think I’d see it in my lifetime. We did it in half the time; we hit 10,000 chapters at the end of December last year; 10,000 worldwide.
Wendy Harris: That’s incredible, isn’t it, really when you think that you’ve done it in half the time? So, here’s a question for you then, Ivan: what’s the next goal?
Ivan Misner: BNI wants to be in every entrepreneurial nation in the world, and there are some countries where that’s just not going to happen any time soon, but there are still many countries to go. We’re in 70 countries worldwide, so we literally could triple the number of chapters that we have in the organisation, which means that we then would make a difference for more and more people.
Last year, in the middle of COVID, this craziness of COVID, our organisation passed almost 12 million referrals. We generated for our members over $16 billion worth of business during COVID and, to me, this is the most amazing statistic: in December of 2020, our members generated more business for each other than they did in December of 2019, which is incredible.
Wendy Harris: Wow. I think, in lots of respects, I know that the current global situation has had a devastating impact on all corners of life; however, I do also see it’s almost like from the ashes that the little seeds are growing, and there are so many good things happening that we’re kind of more focussed than ever before on making sure we’re spending time with the right people in the right places; would you agree?
Ivan Misner: I agree, and you use a word that I think is very a propos, and that is “focussed”. I see people who get frozen by fear or focussed by fear, and BNI’s been around 36 years; I’ve seen that a lot. We live in fearful times and I get that. Those people who allow that fear to focus them are way more successful than those who just get frozen by fear.
Today, more than ever, you need your network. Your network of people is there to help you and support you to get through difficult times, and I saw that over and over again in the last year. I am humbled by the things that I’ve seen, in terms of BNI members supporting one another and getting through these challenging times; it’s truly amazing.
Wendy Harris: Certainly, with only being able to do very limited face-to-face in the little breaks in the UK, where we’ve been able to socially distance in very small groups of six, I’ve not really met any of my chapter members, apart from a couple of people that I maybe knew from before I joined BNI, or somebody that I brought into the chapter; and, I know that I can pick up the phone anytime to them. Certainly, joining BNI through these times has made a real big difference to my business.
Ivan Misner: Our membership went up during COVID. You know, I would say the first six months, many people were frozen in fear, and I’ve seen this in previous recessions. At some point people go, “This isn’t working for me; I need to do something”. And, during every recession in the past, our membership went up.
During COVID and the resulting recession, our membership went up because people recognised that their network is so incredibly important.
Wendy Harris: Well, certainly my network in my chapter, at any point they’re my safety net. This morning, I had a little wobble about something else and I reached out to, you know, I would consider a really good friend, and basically she gave me a big strong talking to and said, “Pull your socks up”, and that’s the value of having a network. Yes, it takes time, but it’s like family.
Ivan Misner: Your network is a beacon of hope in a sea of fear. They are the people that are there to help you and to support you, and we certainly have seen that in this last year and I think we’re going to need to continue to see it for part of this year, at least.
Wendy Harris: I think it would be unrealistic to expect anything to change overnight. BNI itself has just proven that you can continue to thrive.
Ivan Misner: Imagine if this had happened in the late 1980s or 1990s; there’d be almost no way to stay connected with people. At least, we have the technology that exists. Yes, it’s two-dimensional, but we can see each other and have conversations with each other. We can have meetings and BNI has continued to have our meetings worldwide via our online platform, BNI Online, as opposed to in person.
If this had happened 20 years ago, I would have literally seen the company that I’ve worked my entire life for go up in viral smoke.
Wendy Harris: Yeah. There are some small blessings that it didn’t happen sooner. Certainly, in terms of the storm that we’re in, everybody’s in that same storm, but they’re dealing with their own individual circumstances. What would you say is your best advice to sort of weather it out?
Ivan Misner: I think you’ve got to activate your network, sit down and have conversations with them. I’ve seen people during the COVID pandemic do some amazing things and most of them came out of doing online one-to-ones with people; two that really stand out in my mind.
One was a furniture re-upholstery company in the US and she had to let go of all her employees, because it’s hardly an essential business. This was back in March/April of 2020. She did a one-to-one with one of her BNI members and the member just had an offhanded comment. He said, “You have a lot of cloth, don’t you?” and she said, “I literally have tons of cloth”. He said, “Have you thought about making COVID masks?” and she said, “No, I haven’t”. He said, “You know, you could go into the COVID mask manufacturing business to hold you over during at least the first few months of this?”
So, she went out and made 100 masks and gave two of them to each one of her BNI members and a few friends and said, “One’s for you; one, would you be kind enough to give it to a hospital worker, you know, a nurse, a doctor, a senior centre employee; somebody that really, really needs these masks, and give them my card and let them know that I’m now making these?”
She got so many orders, she was able to rehire her entire workforce because now, she became an essential business. She rehired her workforce and they physically distanced; I don’t like the term “social distancing”, we need to be more social than ever. And, she hired them all back and she got into the COVID mask manufacturing business.
I talked to a member in Australia, who’d had a brewery, and he had to close down his brewery. But, somebody in a one-to-one said, “You have a lot of alcohol, don’t you?” and he said, “Yeah, of course”. He said, “Have you thought about making hand sanitizer?” and he said, “No”. So, he went into the hand sanitizer business.
Wendy Harris: I know exactly who to blame for the gin shortage now!
Ivan Misner: Yes! It’s been amazing and it’s all happened when people got focussed by fear, as opposed to being frozen by fear.
Wendy Harris: My business sort of closed overnight. I had one day a month work at the end of March. My husband, he’s self-employed, but he can turn his work on and off like a tap. For most businesses, it is really not that simple, and he couldn’t understand why I was going up to my office all the while, working hard and talking to people.
What came of that was a transition, a book, my podcast, which I’m so proud of, and joining a network that was my safety net. All those conversations that were compounded at the beginning of the crisis has meant that I wasn’t on my own, and that I was able to help other people in their need as well. We are, as you say, physically distanced, but even more socially connected than ever before.
Ivan Misner: Yes, very important to stay socially connected.
Wendy Harris: So, Ivan, I ask every guest to think of a pivotal moment in their life or career that really has created a turning point. I think that these stories really do help up-and-coming business leaders, and even people like me. I’ve been in business 16 years and I’m still learning every single day. Please, share with me and our listeners, your pivotal moment?
Ivan Misner: For me, I like to call it “my Brody moment”. Martin Brody is the character played by Roy Scheider in the movie, Jaws. When he saw the shark for the first time, he said, “We’re going to need a bigger boat”.
I think my Brody moment came in December of 1985, and it stemmed from a conversation that I had in March of that year. But, in December of every year, I sit down and I reflect, how did this year go according to plan; where do I want to be a year from now, five years from now? And, in March I had one chapter at BNI and a woman came to me. She couldn’t join that chapter, because her profession was already represented and as you know, we only allow one person per profession in our BNI chapter.
She said, “This is amazing. I could get a lot of business, but I can’t join. Would you help me open up my own group?” and at first I said no to her. This isn’t what I do; I’m a business consultant; I don’t run a network. And she said, “Well, this is kind of consulting. You’re helping me build my business”. I was like, “That’s kind of a stretch, but okay”. My head was saying, “Don’t do this, it’s not your business”, but my intuition was speaking to me and I think it’s important to listen to your intuition, because it’s your soul talking to you.
I said yes and I’m so glad I did because, as a business consultant, I could maybe help a dozen clients, 15, 20 clients at a time. But, in BNI, this company’s helping 275,000 people and I really feel like that was my Brody moment. That was my pivotal moment in my career, listening to that little voice inside me saying, “Yeah, you should do that”.
Wendy Harris: That need to help that comes to the forefront?
Ivan Misner: Yeah, exactly, because we don’t teach this in colleges and universities anywhere in the world. We don’t teach networking, referral marketing, social capital; it’s just not taught. And, one of the things I determined at that time was that we need to teach it; I should be writing books, articles, material; and, we need to teach people how to build their business through referrals, because it’s not being taught in school.
Wendy Harris: Yeah. But, something that I know is a hot topic of conversation is how our younger generation are coming through and they’re so indoctrinated with screen time, than having a conversation and knowing how to approach a stranger or somebody new or whatever, that it’s even harder for them to socially connect without it being on a keyboard.
Ivan Misner: Maybe. There’s certainly some truth to what you’re saying, but I look back to when I was a young man. I started BNI when I was 28 years old. I had no idea how to network; I was clueless. The one thing that the younger generation has that I did not was they do know how to network. It’s online, but they do know how to connect.
We look at a generation and we see sometimes what we want to see. There’s this great quote, and I’m going to really mangle it, but it’s something to the effect of, “The younger generation today has no respect for their elders. They play games rather than work”. Do you know who wrote that? Socrates.
Wendy Harris: Okay!
Ivan Misner: It’s an issue that goes through the generations and I think, “Yes, you’re right”. They are very much online and they need to learn how to network in person, but I didn’t know how to do that when I was in my twenties. I method acted my way through the process and there are tools and books and materials and websites and videos that help the younger generation that we didn’t have in my generation and so, I wouldn’t give up on them.
I think they have more opportunities to learn than I did when I was in my twenties.
Wendy Harris: I think you make a good point there actually, Ivan, that in lots of ways, they’re practising online. So, it’s kind of like a mirror, a reversal if you like, whereas where I method acted was on the market stalls, and you’d see the characters that would shout and scream and get attention and draw the crowds to their stalls and things, and you would adopt little nuances that you could see that worked that got people’s attention and how people wanted to be treated.
So, yeah, I guess it is just a question of what’s fashionable, because trends come and go.
Ivan Misner: They come and go; it’s what’s available too. We didn’t have any of that available to us and for me in particular, my generation, networking was basically face-to-face cold calling. We didn’t understand how to network. We didn’t understand that networking was more about farming than it was about hunting. I wrote the first doctoral dissertation on networking ever written.
Wendy Harris: I didn’t know that!
Ivan Misner: Yeah. It was published in 1993 at the University of Southern California. I wrote the first book on networking back in 1989. We didn’t have any of that. So, we look at who we are now and we compare ourselves to the young people, we compare young people to us, but we have to look back at who we were in our twenties; and, I think we had as many disadvantages, just different disadvantages than they do.
Wendy Harris: I would be interested, Ivan, to go back to that book from 1989 and you could almost create a new book just by referencing back how things were there. My training was in 1988 and I see a lot of what I was taught initially, I’m relying on as my foundations now to everything that I do. So, I wonder what would crop up as the rising stars and the rising changes in that initial book?
Ivan Misner: The first book I wrote, I think sold like 20 copies, so it didn’t do well. But, I took content from that book and expanded it greatly, and that became a book called, “The World’s Best-known Marketing Secret”, and I published that in 1994 and it’s now in its fourth edition. I think that book has done what you’re suggesting there.
What’s interesting is that I took it to 43 publishers. 42 publishers rejected it; the 43rd said yes. That book now has sold over 250,000 copies; it’s been translated into probably half a dozen to ten languages, so it’s done pretty well. But, the marketplace just didn’t see the need.
Do you know what the number one question I got in the 1980s from the media was? “Isn’t this networking thing just a fad?” That was the number one question I got!
Wendy Harris: That’s what people are talking about now about Clubhouse. If you’d like an invitation, I have a spare one; I’d invite you?
Ivan Misner: I’ve been invited!
Wendy Harris: I bet! It’s what stands the test of time, isn’t it? I think that it is that we just genuinely want to be connected and we do want to be helpful, and that’s the reason for getting up in the morning, isn’t it?
Ivan Misner: It is. I just did a book, I don’t know if you’ve seen it? It’s called, “Infinite Giving”. I did it with two Brits; a yank and two Brits. We had to figure out whether to do it in Queen’s English or American English, so we did it democratically.
Wendy Harris: But, you did it phonetically?
Ivan Misner: We flipped a coin and the yank won! It’s called, “Infinite Giving: The 7 Principles of Givers Gain” and one of the things we say in there, and I’ve got a whole chapter on this, is that, “Giving isn’t new-age psychobabble; it’s science”. We quote the studies done by Yale, by Harvard, by Claremont University, about how giving actually improves performance; giving thanks.
Helping people actually increases performance for both the giver and the receiver, and it’s hard science; it’s not new-age psychobabble.
Wendy Harris: I think it’s incredible. I love your latest book, the “Who’s in Your Room?”
Ivan Misner: Infinite Giving actually came out after Who’s in Your Room.
Wendy Harris: Oh, did it? You’re just a prolific book writer, Ivan.
Ivan Misner: It’s what I do now. I’m working in my flame. So, would you like a minute on the concept of Who’s in Your Room?
Wendy Harris: Yeah. Really, since I discovered this, it has dented the front of my brain.
Ivan Misner: Right, here’s the concept. Imagine you live your life in one room and that one room has only one door, and that one door is an “enter only” door, so that when people come into your life or into your room, they’re there forever; you can never get them out. Luckily, this is a metaphor, Wendy, but if it were true, would you be more selective about the people that you’ve let into your life?
Wendy Harris: Oh, definitely. I’d be pushing them out the way.
Ivan Misner: I would argue that it’s actually more than a metaphor.
Wendy Harris: Yeah.
Ivan Misner: Here’s what I want you to do and if you’re listening to this podcast, I want you to do the same thing. I want you to think of somebody that you got out of your life and I want you to think about why you wanted them out. Were they toxic; were they difficult; what were the reasons you wanted them out of your life?
Now, I’m not going to make you say who it is, but I want you to think of someone. Do you have someone in mind?
Wendy Harris: Uh huh!
Ivan Misner: Now, if you’re listening to this, I want you to do the same; I want you to think of that person. Now, I want you to think about why you wanted them out; what did they do to you? Think about something specific they did that just really upset you which was maybe one of the reasons why you wanted them out of your life; have you got that in your mind?
Wendy Harris: Yes, I’m holding on to that.
Ivan Misner: Okay, so here’s the thing. If they’re still in your head, they’re still in your room, and they will be for the rest of your life, because the room starts on this temple and ends on this temple. It is everything in between your head, your mind; that’s your room. So, the people who have come into your room, have come into your life, they’re fingerprints are all over your brain and they will be forever.
So, it’s very important for us to learn how to screen people out from getting into our room who aren’t a good fit, and we talk about how you do that and what techniques you use to do that. Then, we need to figure out how to deal with the people who have gotten into our room. Sometimes, they’re family members; we had no choice.
Wendy Harris: That’s really helpful. I will check out some of those exercises to exorcise the people that I don’t want in my room.
Ivan Misner: Well you can never get them out, but you can put them in a box and put them high on a shelf in your room.
Wendy Harris: Yes. Ivan, honestly, I just love talking to you; I could talk to you forever. I’m sure there are lots of valuable insights there for the listeners. I know that they can pick up the conversation with you; you have your own website. Where’s the best place for them to find you?
Ivan Misner: Ivanmisner.com. I’ve been writing there for 14 years, twice a week, tons of free content. And of course, on social media, I’m on most of the platforms; Facebook, in particular, I’ve got about 175,000 followers on my Facebook page.
Wendy Harris: That’s brilliant. Ivan, thank you so much for coming on the show. For the listeners, please do make sure that you subscribe on our channel; it’s www.makingconversationscount.studio/podcast. You can listen on any of the platforms of your choice. Do subscribe, because you don’t want to miss any of our past guests, future guests, and I just thank you for tuning in today. Ivan, thanks again.
Ivan Misner: Thanks for having me, Wendy.